Sleep Deprivation, Health, Zombies, and B-Movies

“All persons who die during this crisis from whatever cause will come back to life to seek human victims, unless their bodies are first disposed of by cremation.” – Night of the Living Dead

test pattern

This is a test pattern, back from the days before Infomercials. Public Domain.

Sleep and I have always had a rough relationship.  As soon as I discovered Creepy Creature Feature movies on Saturday night (the movies STARTED at 11:30PM, after Star Trek reruns were over) I was hooked.  I was also in kindergarten, and it was the height of irresponsible behavior for my Grandparents to let me stay up that late, but as long as they could go to bed after Hee-Haw® and the weather forecast, they were happy.

On most Saturday nights when I was a wee Wilder, I would weasel my way to Grandma and Grandpa McWilder’s place because they were so fun to be with.  Grandma McWilder would cook me my favorite dinner, and give me money to buy comic books.  You’re thinking Archie® and Superman© and X-Men™, right?  Sure, I bought plenty of those.  But Grandma didn’t seem to care what a five-year-old bought, and the store didn’t seem to care, either.

To be clear, if I went to the store as a five-year-old and wanted to buy a carton of cigarettes they would have sold them to me.  I bought issues of National Lampoon in the 1970’s that had . . . NAKED WOMEN in them.  And you thought that all people were fully clothed all the time, before the Internet.  Not so.

They wouldn’t have sold me liquor, though.  That’s at least sixth grade.

So I bought:

Creepy and Eerie Magazines – the best in 1970’s black and white cartoon gore:

creepy cover

Nothing unusual here, just a woman holding a disembodied hand close to her chest.  Happens every day, most normal thing in the world.

Image owner likely Dark Horse, used under Fair Use (Criticism), but I’ll take it down if they ask.

And, even:

Off-brand magazines like Weird.  Which were not as good as Creepy, but made up for it with worse artwork:

weird magazine cover

No, that’s not “Wired” it’s “Weird.”  I’m pretty sure I had this issue, but sadly can’t remember a thing that went on in the comic – I’m sure there must be a reason purple-skull man and the werewolf are killing vampires.  Probably a zoning violation?

Image owner unknown and probably hiding, used under Fair Use (Criticism), but I’ll take it down if they ask.

Anyway, Grandma didn’t mind if I was up until 1:30 AM when the test pattern came on watching invisible atomic brain monsters (1958’s Fiend Without a Face) get shot and dissolve in a movie that five year old Johnny Wilder thought was really, really good (I give it five blankets over the head!).  But most of those movies were 1950’s B-movies that were so absurd that even my five-year-old brain could scoff at with ease.  Mostly, I’d just watch the giant spider fight the giant radiation enhanced cow and go to bed.

fiendwithoutaface

Not a radiation enhanced cow. (Source, Wikimedia, fair use, criticism)

But then, one night they showed Night of the Living Dead.  Uncut.  Totally uncut, bare butts and all.  More importantly, all of the zombie human-eating was in the movie, too.  This was certainly the scariest movie I’d ever seen, and only one or two in the future would ever capture the utter dread that this movie brought, along with the calculation that Grandma’s house simply had TOO MANY WINDOWS to board up in the event of a Zombie apocalypse.  Plus, the entire concept was new to me – dead people craving human flesh and actually not going to McDonald’s drive-through, but hunting their own!

Night_of_the_Living_Dead_(1968)_theatrical_poster

EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEK!  Zombies!

This one is, through an odd twist, likely Public Domain.  I’d certainly take it down if Mr. Romero asked me to.

It’s now 1:30AM.  Time to go to bed, but I don’t want to walk on the floor because it creaks.  That would certainly draw the zombies my direction.  I finally get up, and go to the spare bed that’s in Grandma’s bedroom where I normally sleep.

After watching zombies eat living humans my five-year-old brain processed certain facts:

  • Dead people might become zombies, and
  • Develop an insatiable desire to eat human flesh.

I then recalled:

  • Grandma was very old (like 70!), and
  • Old people died, and
  • She might become a zombie in the middle of the night, and
  • I was made of human flesh.

So, if you’ve ever had difficulty sleeping because you thought your wonderful, kindly Grandma might become a zombie and eat you while you were still alive, raise your hand.

Only me?

Anyhow, sleep and I have continued a dubious relationship, and during my life, whenever I could stay up late I certainly did.  But, when I was younger, I would never sleep more than eight or so hours at a stretch until going to wrestling camp in high school.  One of the other wrestlers would just sleep whenever he could.  This was a huge change of perspective for me:  I always avoided naps, and had since I was in head start, and would throw blocks at the other kids who were actually good and attempting to sleep like I was supposed to do.  Heck, even before they kicked me out of head start I knew that naps weren’t for closers.

So, I discovered naps.  What fun!  My sleep schedule became even more chaotic and drift even farther from normal, first a little, then finally my sophomore year of college I had no classes that started before noon.  But the work happened, 7AM start times, early morning sunlight.

The break of dawn.  Ewwww.

At times my sleep pattern has provided four hours of sleep a day during the week, followed by 12 hour weekend crashes.  And, I hear that’s not really good for me unless, that heart disease, heart attack, heart failure, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, stroke and diabetes are good things.  WebMD.com says that those things are really not good for me.  Web MD further states that it can lower my testosterone, make my skin wrinkle, make me gain weight, and (eek), make me die earlier.

That sounds negative, which makes me wonder how did Edison get by on a steady schedule of only four hours of sleep a night?  Well, apparently he did a lot of napping, which must not have counted.  But he really did get by on less sleep than 8 a night.  A lot less.  And a host of famous people have gotten by with less, even though WebMD says they’re all going to die next week.

I have been pushing it too much recently, though.  Since restarting the blog, I spend about nine to twelve hours a week on it, prepping, researching, writing, editing and publishing, and so far I’ve taken that time out of sleep, rather than other pursuits.

I’ve started graphing my sleep, and so far I’ve added about five hours a week back, during the weekdays, where I’d sometimes been getting less than four a night.

One thing I’ve noted when I go to bed early, is I wake up after that four hours, and sometimes have difficulty getting back to sleep – so I’ve begun taking a little melatonin prior to going to bed.  It’s literally a little, 1 milligram – The Mrs. takes about 10 milligrams, I think, and calls me a lightweight.

So, if you’re up too late and can’t sleep, here’s a copy of Fiend Without a Face, courtesy of YouTube – I hear a remake is coming, but you can enjoy the cheesy effects, especially about one hour and seven minutes into the movie . . .

Just make sure that you have a contingency plan in place to take care of Granny if she goes zombie on you . . .

Note:  JOHN WILDER IS NOT A DOCTOR.  Please don’t do anything unless you’ve talked it over with a large stable of professionals, like your actual doctor.

 

Kiyosaki and Sources Of Wealth

“You’re not your job. You’re not how much money you have in the bank. You’re not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You’re not your khakis.” – Fight ClubDSC02988

Someone’s Rich Dad?  Yeah, no marble sculptures of Poor Dad.  The Romans took “Got Your Nose” seriously.

I think that Robert Kiyosaki wants you to be rich.  I’m certain he wants you to think that he’s on your side, and he’s also spent a lot of time and effort doing presentations long after I would have retired to my private island off the coast of Antarctica (I like it cold) with my laser penguins.  Kiyosaki has made a metric ton of quarters selling the concepts in his Rich Dad/Poor Dad series of books (Amazon LINK) through both the books and personal consulting (rumor has it personal coaching can cost $45,000, and those are real American dollars, not fake Canadian metric currency).

Kiyosaki’s story is that his natural father was “Poor Dad.”  I’m assuming this book was NOT originally released on Father’s Day.

Poor Dad was very smart, and had a Ph.D. and worked in high government posts, but had a worldview that didn’t set Robert up for financial success.  By contrast, “Rich Dad,” a mentor and friend, explained how getting to financial freedom and wealth really worked.

Kiyosaki breaks the ways that people make money into four categories:

  1. Being an employee. This is most of us, and society works to perpetuate this role.  What is an employee?  One who works for a salary (or hourly wages) and benefits.  We live with a misconception that being an employee carries with it a degree of security, even if it’s less security today than it was in, say, 1970.  If you work for the government, however, it’s more likely that you’ll get malaria from a married vampire bat than get fired. (really)

Being an employee is generally based in . . . fear.  And the ultimate fear that employees have is . . . termination.  The threat of being fired, for many, is a direct threat to the core of who and what they are.

Being fired brings with it:

  1. Reduction in Resources – Most jobs pay enough to keep you coming back, but only a very few offer sufficient extra income to build real wealth. To the astonishingly high 78% of Americans that sometimes or always live paycheck to paycheck, the threat of job loss is especially dire.  It doesn’t help that we, as consumers often increase our individual spending so that it matches our income.  But, I’ve posted about that before (LINK).
  2. Loss of Status – Many men (especially) think of themselves AS their job. When you think about it, this makes sense.  The first question you ask a working-age man that you’ve just met is “What do you do?”  This establishes him the social hierarchy.  Society really does define a man by his work.  Time at work can represent half of your waking time.  In 2015, I spent 48% of my waking time at work or commuting to work, meaning I interacted more with co-workers than I did with my family that year.  Status drives many important hormones, and, for men, stress and job loss actually cause testosterone levels to plummet.
  3. Loss of Purpose – I’ve discussed before (LINK) that purpose is necessary for a real life, and it’s necessary to have a big one. Given the hours and time spent at work, it’s inevitable that work can become our purpose.  When you lose that purpose, you’re set adrift until you find a new one.

In a sense, the employer/employee relationship is a kinda like an “on speaking terms” hostage situation.  They have a job that represents status, purpose, and life-giving resources.  You have all of your time, effort, and passion to trade for that job.  Kiyosaki thinks that’s a bad trade.  But he could buy his own island.

  1. Small Business Ownership is the second income generator that Kiyosaki talks about. And, if possible, it comes off even worse than being an employee.  Being a small business owner entails all of the work of being and employee, plus lots more risk.  His reasoning is that employees at least have the business to fall back on if they have a bad day, week, or year.  Kiyosaki defines a small business as a business where, if you take a day off, the business cannot go.  You’re the spark, the fuel supply, and the tires.  Essentially, you become the whole car.  Or Taco Truck.
  2. Business Owner, which Kiyosaki defines as someone who hires employees (smart ones!) to work for him (or her). Kiyosaki feels that small businesses can’t compete at all against these larger entities, since he can hire great legal, accounting, and HR people and small businesses have to do all of that themselves, generally not very well.  Given that the business has support staff in place, the business owner can focus on the business itself.  The owner can also take a day or a week off and the business will continue to function and generate wealth.  Kiyosaki likes this, since money invested into the business makes more money.  And Kiyosaki breaks with many financial advisors here – debt is just fine in his book as long as the debt is generating more revenue than it costs.  This is his formula for building personal wealth, as well as freeing up time to do . . . whatever it is you want to do.
  3. Investing is the end stage for Kiyosaki. Investing allows for all of the time freedom, plus financial freedom.  All of the wealth you could want.  Kiyosaki would NOT classify your house as one of your investments – it doesn’t generate revenue, and you have to pay for it, so it’s a liability.  Investments generate income.  Oh, and risk?

“Investing is less risky than being an employee.  Skilled investors are in control of their investments, employees are controlled by a boss.”

Furthermore, Kiyosaki makes this Zen-like statement:  “ . . . you do NOT (emphasis in original) invest with money!  You invest with your mind!”  In other words?  Find the deal and the money will show up.

As I said, this is a different way to look at life – a different lens.  I’ll easily admit that my life since I was 22 has been focused on being a great employee.  At some point, it seems I need to have better investments, but note that Kiyosaki says . . . “Skilled investors,” but, alas, tonight I learned that my Pez® collection is not an investment because it generates no revenue.

Thoughts?

Free to Choose, or, Economics is Stupid

“It’s not my fault your species decided to abandon currency-based economics in favor of some philosophy of self-enhancement.” – Star Trek, Deep Space 9

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The Boy, when you won’t buy his feathers.  

It’s amazing how it can take a lot years of study to state something that’s blindingly obvious.

Economics is one of those sciences that does exactly that.  It took an Austrian, Carl Menger, until 1871 to state a fact which most of us take to be blinding obvious – people value things differently.

Let’s take Pez©.  Everyone thinks that Pez® is roughly worth its weight in gold, and, should we need to give our gold to the aliens of Zontar-7 so they can make a gigantic gold Pez™ dispenser for their harvest god, well, instead of gold we could use Pez©.

Wait, not everyone thinks that Pez® is as valuable as gold?

Menger came up with the concept that, in a free exchange, both sides of a deal walk away happy.  When I go to Wal-Bart, I trade them dollars for steak.  They want the dollars more than the steak.  I want the steak more than I want the dollars.  We both win!

I know that sounds obvious, but this one bit of philosophy is the foundation of an entire political movement, libertarianism.  I know it sounds like I’m joking, but I’m not.

Let’s take Marxism, the whole communist philosophy thing.  Karl Marx (another Carl? What IS it with that name?) said it all a bit differently, and, history shows, a lot more stupidly.

Marx said, essentially:  an object was worth the amount of labor and material that went into making it.  Only a fool would make the obvious joke about polishing a poop . . . but that’s exactly what Marx said.  Okay, he didn’t make an explicit joke about a poop.  But the philosophy still stands . . .

If you spent a million hours of labor in polishing a poop perfectly, it’s still a poop.  But that poop represents the labor and hours and investment of good Soviet Men!  So they must be accounted that way.  The free market allows for profit!  Which is also bad, because it’s MORE than the cost of production of the item.  But it’s just philosophy, right?

And that philosophy resulted in the Soviet Union, Communist China, Cambodia, North Korea, and Viet Nam.  Oh, and at least 94,000,000 dead.

The practical impact of that philosophy was felt in the USA, too.  In the 1970’s, in response to rising gasoline prices (due to the OPEC oil embargo), the price of gasoline was limited to a maximum price.  So, gasoline prices went up, but not as much as a free market would have driven them.  The result?

Long lines at gas stations.  If you were a typical driver, you needed gas to get to work.  Your boss then (as now) had zero sympathy for you not having gas.  So, you got in line at the gas station, waiting to get gas as soon as the truck showed up and filled up the station’s tanks.  But pretty soon everybody had the idea, and the lines for gasoline wrapped around city blocks.  Then rationing started – only even numbered license plates could come in on Tuesday.  And odd numbered plates on Wednesday.  And non-binary transgender plates on Thursday.  You get the point.

You and I might think that this idea was put into place to drive the public crazy, but it was supposed to help us.  When Ronald Reagan became president, he dumped this crazy Nixon-era idea, and then . . . lines stopped.  The price of gasoline went up, it went down, but nobody had to face a line at the pump.

And Menger started that revolution, simply by stating what you and I know to be true:

A thing is worth . . . exactly what someone will pay for it.  And in a free transaction?  Everybody wins.

Let me give another example:

The Boy was going to second grade.  For whatever reason, they made feathers out of construction paper.  In whatever fever-induced-second-grader dream he was having, I was supposed to buy, with real money, these feathers from him.

If you’ve never had a seven-year-old screaming at the top of his lungs, “BUY MY FEATHERS,” well, you’ve never lived.

The Boy was also pretty sure about the price he wanted.  He wanted two dollars for each construction paper feather, and demanded I buy five of them.  DEMANDED!

Normally, The Boy has, was, and is reasonable.  On this day?  He was a screaming pile of id, demanding payment.

In a rational, calm voice, I tried to negotiate.  “How about a dollar a feather.”

“NO! TWO DOLLARS!  BUY MY FEATHERS!”

“How about I buy one of them?”

“NO! BUY THEM ALL!”

It started to feel like negotiating with a cop over a ticket for not stopping “enough” at the stop sign, or the IRS about not paying them “all” of the money they said I owed them.  There was no rational basis for this.  Just like Marx, The Boy saw only one value for the feathers, and that was the value he put on them.

So, in his mind, I was to buy a set quantity of a thing, for a price that he dictated.

He should be in government, thus endeth example the second.

But when you look at the counter example, I can recall that almost every transaction where I’ve bought something, sold something, or traded something for something else, I’ve come out happy.  And so have they.

Sure, I didn’t want to pay a lot of money for electricity for air conditioning while I lived in Houston, but that was way better than living in Houston without air conditioning.  I had a choice.  And when I bought that Battlestar Galactica Original Helmet©, complete with signatures from Apollo™ and Starbuck™?  Yes.  Totally worth it.

In a free market, people are free to choose.  I get to choose my own purchases (most of them, thank you IRS, Social Security, Medicare).  When businesses are free to choose, they can choose to serve me or not.  Thus came, from this simple economic idea, an entire political idea – I can choose what schools, what kind of light bulbs, what size of toilet tank, and almost every aspect of your life.

In the year 1900, your involvement with the federal government would have consisted of going to the post office.  That was (pretty much) it.

Now?  You get up, brush your teeth with an FDA approved toothpaste, shower in water covered by several federal laws, in a shower where the valve is regulated to work a certain way, and then dress, go to your car (as approved by several governing bodies, including the EPA and the NHTSAA) and turn onto a road paved with federal funding.

All of this before you get to work!

I’m not saying that I think the end result of all of those laws was bad, but they do limit our freedom to choose our own path.  And that adds cost, removes our choices and makes us all poorer.

Except for The Boy.  He apparently can set his own price for construction-paper feathers.

Will young blood keep me alive forever? or . . . Blood, Billionaires, and Mice

“Think about it. From vampirism to Catholicism, whether literally or symbolically, the reward for eating flesh is eternal life.” – The X Files

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The blood is fake, as is the snow . . . 

Blood.  There’s a lot of it coursing through The Boy’s veins . . .

Last August, I read an article that I found fascinating.  Eggheads performed a study in 2014 that showed when old mice were injected with the blood plasma from young mice that their ability to learn increased, and their memory increased as well.  I’m not sure if they gave the mice the verbal section of the SAT to test them (or, if they took expensive mouse SAT prep courses), but I’m pretty sure that they didn’t give the mice the essay section of the SAT, since all the mice would have had to write about would be how these giant humans keep sticking them with needles.  Oh, and the mice could write about Game of Thrones.  Mice love Game of Thrones.

It turns out that Peter Thiel, multi-billionaire tech investor, is very interested in the implications of those needle-shy mice.  Thiel has been aggressively working on life extension techniques and technology.  This makes sense, since if you’re a multi-billionaire, your checklist for must-haves includes:

  • Island Lair
  • Ownership of a Small South American Country
  • Asian Manservant
  • Low-Yield Nuclear Arsenal
  • Eternal Life

I kid.  Mr. Thiel appears to be six degrees of awesome:

  • He’s a multi-billionaire, but also
  • Chess Life Master
  • Co-Founder of Pay Pal
  • Bought 10% of Facebook for $500,000
  • Has a TV Character Based on Him

He also wants you to live forever, and is funding research to extend life for everybody.  This would change the math of retirement/Social Security, but would also allow people enough life to explore different professions, to change the dynamic of families by providing a coherent story that spanned hundreds of years, or to play endless video games and eat Nachos Bellgrande® forever.

Thiel looks to an optimistic future where people live and contribute to the fullest (though I suspect there’ll be a LOT of 800 year old stoners on basement couches).That where parabiosis comes in.

Parabiosis Etymology:

  • Para from Latin, meaning “Two,”
  • Bio from the Ancient Greek for “Story” and
  • Sis meaning “Sister,”
  • So, literally two stories about your sister – and they aren’t flattering.

Parabiosis as term initially described (and I am not making this up) experiments where two critters of the same species were surgically joined, especially their circulatory systems.  Besides being a bad B-movie plot, this practice was largely forgotten for over 70 years.  New experimenters, encouraged by Christopher Lee playing Dracula, picked the experiments up again.  Someone had the bright idea to stop stitching mice together, and just inject them.  The mice were very pleased, since now they could avoid the whole creepy “sewing two animals together thing” and just have their blood transferred back and forth via needle.  That takes all the fun out of it, but it did induce the mice to stop the strike.

Anyhow, the results showed that injecting old mice with “young” mouse blood plasma had the significant positive health impacts mentioned previously, making them “younger.”  Injecting young mice with “old” mouse plasma made them, in many measurable ways, “older” – they formed fewer brain cells, and tended to hike their pants up higher and reminisce about back in the day when they were baby mice.

Some studies have even been done with humans, and there appears to be significant benefits to us, as well.

Wow.

Given that it looks like the changes might be real, and might be long lasting, there is some pretty significant interest in parabiosis as a starter longevity treatment.

It’s not like we have a shortage of young people who have rich, sweet plasma that you could milk, er, drain, er, farm, er, whatever.  Is harvest politically correct?  And a fit 18 year old can generate 800ML (more than a wine bottle’s worth) of plasma a week safely.  Unlike kidneys, which have to be bought using blackmail or a cheap hotel room and a bathtub filled with ice, it’s totally legal in most places to BUY plasma from the donors – you don’t have to put on a cape or sneak into their room in the dark with fangs.  You can buy it for $40 or $50.

This treatment is totally not a standard FDA/AMA approved treatment.  There is, however, a completely legal way to get a treatment with the plasma, if you have $8,000.  Ambrosia LLC (LINK) is running a trial on the therapy, complete with an extensive (and expensive) panel of blood work to test the before condition and the after impacts of the therapy.  There are even rumors that several Silicon Valley tech titans have their own young and healthy donors on retainer (and, yes, this is legal – if you have $200,000 or so, you could probably wrangle this as well).

And, you might well ask – have you, John Wilder, considered doing this?  Certainly!  $8000 (plus travel to and from) is a bit pricey, and I thought of putting in a GoFundMe or Kickstarter for a “Blogger Looking For Blood” might even get me close to the asking price.  I could even make the argument it’s tax deductible, since I’m doing it for you, dear readers.

I even have my own prospective donor, The Boy, who is so healthy and strapping that he exudes wellness through his pores, along with sweat and teenage boy stink.

I wonder if there’s a BYOB (Bring Your Own Blood) discount?

Frugality, Financial Samurai, Mr. Money Mustache, and Early Retirement Extreme

“Hello Mrs. Farnickel.  How are you, today?  Making a deposit, are we?  Great.  We can just put that into your retirement account and make it go to work for you aaaaand it’s gone.” – South Park

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Frugality doesn’t mean that your duct tape can’t match* your car! Splurge!

*if your car is silver

What if you could live the majority of your life without worrying about a job?  What if, instead of hitting the alarm at 5:45AM on Monday morning you could get up when you wanted, and do what you wanted to do?

Scary.  Sounds like International Communism!  The entire world might fall apart!  Beware, the Chinese Overlords are attacking!!!!

Perfectly capable people are exiting the corporate workforce and becoming independent, as in, “I don’t have to put up with another performance review” independent.  Some examples of this are Sam from Financial Samurai (LINK), Mr. Money Mustache – MMM for short (LINK), and Jacob from Early Retirement Extreme (LINK).  I list them in this order from least extreme to most extreme.

Sam lives in Sam Francisco, MMM in Colorado, and Jacob lives on Planet Jacob (Now in Chicago, after looking around a bit on his blog).

Early Retirement the Financial Samurai Way

Sam’s theory is by far the most conventional.  He wants to make enough money from passive investments and activities like blogging that he’s happy.  He thinks that exactly $211,000 a year is happy, because above that he has to give too much money to the government, which makes him not happy.

I think that most people can identify with Sam – he wants to have a big enough income stream (and no real job) that he can go to Tahiti tomorrow for a month and nothing changes, but he also wants to be able to buy all the stuff that he wants (within reason).  He has property (houses and vacation homes) and rental property and other investments.  He (obviously) could make much more – certainly $500,000 plus a year if he wanted to grind it down and devote himself to it.

One of my favorite posts of Sam’s is where he discusses how he can always pick up a tennis game at the public courts with great players who play a lot, but can never get a good game at the exclusive country club because those guys are pouring their lives out in corporate jobs that rip away their soul in exchange for money.  But, on the bright side?  It’s a LOT of money.

Sam doesn’t make the same choice.  Your money or your life?  Sam has chosen his life.

And, even though he doesn’t know me (and this blog doesn’t yet rank) I owe him – his blog gave me a lot of the motivation to restart blogging after my self-imposed eight year hiatus.

Mr. Money Mustache’s Money Machine

MMM notches it up a bit, even though (by everything I can tell) he’s making huge bank (hundreds of thousands of dollars a year) on his website.  It seems that he gives lots of it away.  Because he can.

Mr. Money Mustache is all about flipping the equation.  He and his family live on $30,000 a year (2016).  This isn’t horribly surprising since the average family income in the US is $56,000.  Mr. Money Mustache’s major difference is that he doesn’t have a real job, blogs only when he feels like it, and won’t put up with anyone’s crap.  If you have a deal, you have a deal.  If you need oodles of lawyers?  Probably not your guy.

His thought is the typical lifestyle of someone in the United States is “An Exploding Volcano of Wastefulness.”  He advocates that you save 50% or more of your income, primarily by shunning many of the expense that most of us regularly take for granted, like being a multi-car family; ignore luxury and convenience and focus on true happiness.

Some of his points, along with my commentary:

  • Debt is an Emergency. It’s killing you, and must be treated like an Emergency.  NO FRILLS UNTIL IT’S GONE!  I know I totally violated this rule with the hot tub (LINK), but that really has made us happy.
  • Live close to work. You can bike.  Cheaper and better for you.  I agree, but selling the house because I have to travel 20 more minutes is extreme, so I’m not going to do that right now.  Plus The Boy is a junior in High School.  I’ll skip moving if I can.
  • Don’t borrow money for cars. I agree (LINK).
  • Don’t buy stupid cars. (Same agreement, same link.)
  • Ride a bike to commute. I also agree, but live too far away, and I’m not uprooting the kids for my commute. Note that the car advice alone saves $250,000 in a decade.
  • Cancel Pay TV. Ooops, I start to get a bit scared here.  Three words:  Game of Thrones.  But this is a huge point:  you end up paying money to do something passive that takes your attention and focus, and many times doesn’t make you any better, so you pay for TV three times.
  • Don’t waste money on groceries. MMM has a pretty long post on calories and such here – but he lives on family food budget about 25% of ours, primarily by avoiding high cost packaged/convenience stuff.  We could be better here.
  • Don’t pamper the kids. They’re not in medical school until they’re in medical school.  They don’t need the Princeton of Preschools.  Kids eat paste.  And that’s high school kids.
  • No overpriced cell phones. Again, we can do better here.  Inertia is killing me on this one – the time cost of change.  The Boy gets better service and more data for less than I’m spending.  Just need time to change.
  • Fix your own stuff. This is like a triple reward.  If it’s broken and you mess it up?  It was already broken.  But you learn how to fix things, which makes you better.  And you don’t pay someone else to do it.

We’re buying a new dishwasher because the existing one sucks.  I know we technically don’t even need one, but I like having one.  In this case, Sears® won’t install it.  I’ve done it before, and sighed.  Okay, I’ll do it again.  And save $75 for what will probably be either 15 minutes’ worth of work or an amusing blog post.

But there is a bigger point that I’d like to note – there comes a time when people tend to become more risk averse, and age is a driver to that.  Pop Wilder’s Video Cassette Recorder (VCR) always flashed a continuous noon (or midnight).  He could never figure out how to set the time, and didn’t want to mess it up so it didn’t work, kind of the opposite of mall lawyers attempting to poke their lawyer fingers into a copier to fix it by playing with all the springs and rollers and things.

Short version: don’t lose your youthful desire to tear something up just to figure out how it works.  NOTE:  I AM NOT speaking to medical professionals, especially ones that might work on me.

So according to MMM, follow the above steps and save 50% to 75% of what you make.  After a while?  Just stop going to work, but enjoy all that nice money you made, plus the lifestyle you created.  MMM figures that, once you’ve started living a disciplined lifestyle, 25x your income should last you roughly forever.

Jacob’s Early Retirement Extreme Engine

Jacob at Early Retirement Extreme lives on $7,000 per year.  Combined with his wife, they spend $14,000 per year.  He says he currently has 119 years’ worth of annual expenses saved up as his net worth.  You can probably do that much math, if not, you just might be too short for this ride, the Life Coaster.

Jacob maintains he spends his money much more efficiently than the average person – four times as efficiently.  He uses a 12 year old 12” laptop and, being retired and all, when he wears a suit it’s a $500 suit he bought for $100.

Jacob is probably farthest away from mainstream consumer behavior, and seems to enjoy it – he and his wife lived in a used RV for years.  Me? I have a seven foot stack of books from Amazon in my bedroom that I haven’t read yet.  (Full disclosure – I did read Jacob’s book and there are some great ideas in it).

Me?  I’m not retired yet, and college still looms for Pugsley and The Boy.  The Mrs. and I do have plans, though.  One day after Pugsley graduates from High School we’re moving to a shipping container near the Arctic Circle in Alaska.  Someone has to welcome our new Chinese Communist Overlords!

The Economy, The Fourth Turning, Kondratieff, and You.

“Why? My father would tell the story of impregnating my mother every winter solstice.” – Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2

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Like they keep staying in that HBO show, “Winter is Coming” except that it’s here . . . 

I can predict the future, with pretty amazing accuracy.

You can, too.

If I step into the path of the bus travelling at 50 miles per hour (0.0000822 parsecs per year) and it’s only 20 feet away, well, you can predict that future, too.

You might be saying, “But John Wilder, you’re cheating, everyone knows that you can’t step in front of a speeding bus.”  Just because you can do a thing that everyone else can do, doesn’t mean it’s cheating.  And it is predicting the future.

Now can I tell you who is going to win the next Super Bowl©?  Not with the same certainty, but a bet on the Patriots™ wouldn’t be a bad one, which mirrors every year since 2002.  I can predict with nearly perfect certainty a number of teams that won’t make the Super Bowl.

So, now that we’ve gotten the whole, “You can’t predict the future” business out of the way, I’ll describe the future via the past and via the life of Pop Wilder.

Pop Wilder started life in late autumn of 1921, and got his first job counting out dimes to pay to migrant laborers at the age of five.  His father and another guy (Mr. Potter LINK) started a small farm bank, and, there being no child labor laws of significance back then, they put Pop to work.  Pop’s boyhood home was Spartan.  By Spartan I mean very few furnishings, not that he had to go live in the mountains in the winter with only his spear to prove his manhood.  He told me that was just a joke after he made me do that.

On the bright side?  Pez® was invented in 1927.

Entering Winter (Crisis)

I’m pretty sure that Pop didn’t think much about the stock market crash at the time – New York was far away, and it didn’t seem to impact the small town he lived in very much.  But it did change his entire generation – they learned to hate debt, and distrust the stock market entirely.

As entered his most impressionable age, the nation entered economic crisis:  The Great Depression.  I think they called it “Great” because at least they got legal booze back during the Depression.  Part of the economic breakdown included a collapse of a significant number of banks which prompted President Franklin Roosevelt to close ALL banks in the United States for four days, even the ATMs.  Pop’s father had done a good job managing the debts that his bank had, and his bank reopened without incident, unlike 4,000 banks that remained closed.  The Federal Reserve and US Treasury reacted during the crisis by:

Instead he [Treasury Secretary William Woodin] decided to “issue currency against the sound assets of the banks [as opposed to issuing currency against gold]. The Federal Reserve Act lets us print all we’ll need. And it won’t frighten the people.  It won’t look like stage money. It’ll be money that looks like real money.” –  Federal Reserve History Website (LINK)

Printing money is awesome if you can figure out a legal way to do it.

Pop worked at the bank after graduating high school as a teller until December 8, 1941, when he and a million other American men marched to the recruiting office to sign up for an all expenses paid vacation in either Europe or the Pacific.  After Officer Candidate School, Pop was sent to the Manhattan Engineering District until they transferred him to transport duty.

When I was a wee lad, I asked him if he’d ever been shot at.  “No, but I was with people they were shooting at.”  I finally got the joke when I was older.

Entering Spring (High)

Along with a million other GIs at the end of the war, Pop attempted to get into college.  He was told “no,” by the college he applied to, and just went back to work at his Dad’s bank and got married.  Eventually they had my brother, who is also named John Wilder.

When his father died, he became president of the small farm bank.  He and his brother (along with their Mother) became minority owners.  The original deal had Great-Grandpop Wilder sharing ownership of the bank with Mr. Potter 50%-50%, but over time Great-Grandpop had sold his shares to Mr. Potter when he needed extra money.

This was a time of great civic participation, of Pop Wilder’s generation beginning to take over businesses and run them with great caution, but also with great optimism.

Entering Summer (Awakening)

At some point in here, I was adopted into the family.  Dad turned down an offer to join one of the big banks in the Midwest when Mr. Potter matched his salary.  He worked at the bank his father started for 17 more years, but this was the last raise he would ever get.

Even though great societal change was underway, the United States had great and broad prosperity and resources were everywhere – we thought that, as a nation, we could spend enough money so poverty would cease to exist.  Everyone was “looking for themselves” as divorce, birth control, and abortion set the seeds for the change that was coming in Fall.  Prior to this time, there was a theoretical link between the dollar and gold.  It was primarily theoretical because individual ownership of gold coins and bullion was prohibited in the United States, though one could own silver coins.

With the severing of the link, the price of gold shot up.

price of gold

Even though we had to live through Disco and the BeeGees, we still managed to get things worked out – Jimmy Carter’s values weren’t too far from Gerald Ford’s.

Entering Fall (Unravelling)

Branch banking laws took small farm banks and made them compete with large banks.  Soon after that, banks were for the first time competing across state lines.  What had been a decentralized system (sort of, the Federal Reserve really, really liked New York) became a few small banks, a few regional banks, but most of the assets belonged to the big New York banks.

Mr. Potter was getting old, and he arranged a bank sale and forced the family to sell their shares to the new owner.  The new owner reversed Pop’s policies, and began loaning to people with credit that wasn’t so great.  (“Any idiot with a truck and a backhoe,” per Pop.)  Pop had been proud that he had never foreclosed on a loan – he only lent money to people with sound credit, with income that guaranteed that they could repay.  Pop retired, and the new owner sold to a regional bank.  This happened several times, though Pop stayed on the Board of Directors long after he could hear what they were talking about during the meeting.

“Bone Preserve?  What’s that?”

“No, Mr. Wilder, that’s ‘loan reserve,’ not Bone Preserve.”

In this era the fighting between political parties went from competition to ideological war.

Entering Winter (Crisis)

Pop was on the Board when the bank was declared insolvent in the wake of the banking crisis of 2008, and sold in a fire sale of restructuring.  Pop passed on not long after.

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I saw this written on a blank sign board in Alaska along the Haul Road to Deadhorse.  Thankfully, the sign was accurate – I was indeed right there.

I bring Pop’s life into this picture because I think his life particularly illustrates how and why business cycles form. These cycles are as much out of the psychology of the people who have money as they are about technological innovation or anything else.  This psychology has very significant implications to society.

The one thing that the economic crisis (followed by the war) did for the country was to clear the debt, but in a much bigger sense, it changed the opinion of the American public against debt.  Pop Wilder hated debt, and lectured me about it every morning while I brushed my teeth.  On days that he couldn’t be there, he had a cassette I was supposed to listen to.

Debt was bad, and Pop had seen the impact of it on people’s lives.  What he had seen as a child defined his life and all of the business decisions that he made throughout his life; further, it defined the psychology of an entire generation.  Pop found it immoral to lend money to those that couldn’t repay it, and would often, after a few bourbons, be a bit morose about the crap he had to take from people he wouldn’t loan money to.  He was saving their financial lives, but they hated him for it.  Outside of the tremendous borrowing for World War II, you can see that the current debt of the United States has no historical precedent (except maybe by the Romans LINK).

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As you can see, whatever it is we’re doing here is equivalent to fighting WWII, but I think it probably involves buying a lot of elephant rides. – Source, Wikipedia

And as Pop’s generation slipped via age to no longer control the bulk of the financial assets of the country, the stock market poured booze in the punch bowl.  The monetarily driven Tertiary Economy (LINK) party started in earnest, debt surged, and greater and greater risk slipped into the picture as large pools of money looked for whatever asset bubble existed that year – be it the first Tech Boom, the Housing Boom, the Pez© Boom, or the Oil Boom.  Certainly fortunes were made in all of those booms, but the busts created greater and greater economic dislocation, and our current economic crisis, when viewed through the lens of history, has always led to armed conflict significantly beyond current levels.  It will end when we’re tired of the total war that we’ve created.  Only after that level of conflict will society set the psychology to avoid debt and war in the minds of the young, and only then can Spring start again.

One note: it won’t look like World War II.  The United States has invested trillions of dollars in treasure to make a World War II style war an easy win for us – no one can touch our military at this point in a conventional war.  Whatever war starts, it’s assured they won’t play by our rules.

Debt Cycles, Fourth Turning and Kondratieff

Strauss and Howe described the future in their book The Fourth Turning (AMAZON LINK, WIKIPEDIA LINK).  This book predicted our current problems.  If Strauss and Howe are correct, we certainly haven’t seen the greatest depths of the current crisis, as we observably are still in a continuation of the old order – we’ve not hit the significant break with the past that we saw at the American Revolution, the Civil War, or the Great Depression/World War II crisis.

Strauss and Howe were not the first group to figure this out, and neither was Nikolai Kondratieff (LINK), a Soviet economist working for Stalin’s USSR, though he gets a lot of the credit.  Kondratieff looked at economic cycles from the standpoint of communism and claimed that there was a fundamental instability in the debt and credit cycles in a capitalist society, leading to inevitable boom and bust, which only proud Soviet Communism could solve.  Elevated at first to a high economic post, he visited the United States and an American sent back word that he wasn’t quite Soviet enough.  Kondratieff ended up first in prison, and then finally well, um, sentenced to not breathe any more valuable Soviet air.

What comes out of the other side is (at least) partially predictable based upon the past.

  1. The peak of the Crisis has not yet been reached.
  2. Signs of the peak can and must include doubt as to the final outcome as well as an event so significant it removes current barriers that separate the majority of citizens.
  3. In the past, the Civil War and Great Depression resulted in significant expansions of state control. These eras were times of national (post Civil War) and then (post WWII) international expansion.  Although it is likely that there will be economic contraction, it won’t necessarily lessen state control.  In Great Britain everything went socialist (for a time).
  4. Religious and civic engagement will rise, this is a constant post-crisis theme.
  5. There will be a sense of shared purpose – variance between Democratic/Republican party platforms will decline.
  6. Civil war is possible. Continuation of a unified United States is not guaranteed.
  7. Pez® production will be temporarily suspended to make more pantyhose for our troops.

Now you’ve reviewed a chunk of the history of the United States through the life of a man who viewed an entire economic cycle and was the perfect age at the invention of Pez™.

We know that life will change, and at some point the Patriots® will stop winning Super Bowls©.

Can you think of other predictions?

Share ‘em below.  And share the post!  Pop Wilder and Pez© compel you.

Hot Tubs, Money and Health

“Oh, okay. So I guess you came here in a Hot Tub Time Machine, too.” – Hot Tub Time Machine 2

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A homemade cocoon for our first hot tub.  Notice the used insulation – true Alaska!

It was twenty years ago today . . . oh, wait, that’s Sergeant Pepper . . . in my case it was closer to nineteen years ago . . .

I had just been paid the biggest bonus that I’d ever gotten.  It had been a good year, and I managed a high profile project well – I’d saved the company several million dollars while bringing it in on time.  I had a great, supportive, guru boss (this is both good and bad) who had solid numbers to take to the higher-ups to support his case.  Awesome!

Also awesome was that, after taxes, the bonus could pay down approximately 1/3 of the credit card debt I had at that time.  I had been at the point in my life where I was trying to keep my head above water after a divorce, and credit cards had been a stop gap.  The Mrs. and I sat on the couch in the upstairs living room, as the Sun shined its last golden rays of the day into the room, providing a soft, mellow glow.  We argued about the merits of choosing to pay down the debt, versus other options.  We spent several hours discussing it.

So, The Mrs. and I sat, and made the momentous decision that . . . forget the debt, we’re getting a hot tub.

I know that this is probably not what your financial advisor would suggest you do, unless your financial planner was a twenty-eight year old with a short attention span who lived in his parent’s basement so he could save his money to buy even more weed.  It was a horrible, frivolous decision.  And it was one that I have never regretted.

Not only did we get a hot tub, we got the full-blown Sundance™ party hot tub – seats eight.  We even custom ordered it to match the same colors as our house.  When it arrived several weeks later we moved out of the house and into the tub.  I exaggerate.  We still went into the house for showers.

When we moved to Alaska, we took the hot tub with us.  I eventually encased it in an outer cocoon of plywood and insulation, so even when it was -55˚F outside, the tub didn’t freeze, and didn’t cause the meters at the power plant to spin at light speed.

Our house in Central Midwestia was a great place to hot tub, but if there’s a truly awesome place to hot tub, it’s Alaska.  The Mrs. and I would sit out in the tub for hours watching the aurora borealis write physics equations in the sky in particle, ions, and color.  The aurora would move and undulate, lasting (on a good night) hours as the rivers of light threaded through the sky.  We’ve had a hot tub at every house we’ve lived at, although we never used the one we had in Houston, since . . . it was Houston.

I think that buying that first hot tub was a good decision for two reasons:  we got out of debt, but we did it slowly, and with discipline.  That was good to teach us to live within our means and be frugal, unless I really, really needed those night-vision goggles.

But this isn’t a post about finance, that’s Wednesday’s topic.  Today’s is health . . . and, like apple cider vinegar, hot tubs appear to also be amazingly good for you under most circumstances:

Hot tubs appear to make the following things better:

  • Arthritis
  • Asthma
  • Aurora Viewing* (Offer Void Outside Alaska)
  • Stress (lowers it)
  • Sleep (makes it better)
  • Blood Pressure (lowers it)
  • Migraine Frequency and Intensity (lowers it – I’ve never had one – it’s working!)

I think the other nice thing is that nobody has a laptop or an iPad™ or a Palm Pilot© in the tub – we’re forced to spend time with . . . us.  And that’s good for overall family life.

On the flip side, people mentioned these negative health consequences:

  • Infections from unsanitary hot tubs (In my experience this would be hard to do.)
  • Birth defects (I’ll abstain when pregnant.)
  • Lower sperm count (No comments here.)
  • Heart issues (But, isn’t that every darn thing??)
  • Chlorine over-exposure (see below)

I have had personal experiences with the chlorine, especially early on nineteen years ago when learning how to chemically treat the tub.  At one point, my hot tub had nearly the same chlorine gas content as last seen during trench warfare in France.

Most recently The Mrs. bought a swimming-pool sized chlorinator for the hot tub because there might be 50 hot tubs within 20 miles, Wal-Mart doesn’t stock any hot-tub sized chlorinators.

This aircraft carrier sized chlorine-berg treats approximately 100 times the volume of water as the hot tub on its lowest setting.  The deceptive danger from this chlorinator is that as it sits and bobs in the tub, it’s releasing chlorine into the water, and not a whole lot comes out as gas, so the water doesn’t smell like chlorine.

I got into the tub for a bit after the chlorinator had been sitting in there for about 48 hours.  Pretty soon I felt like I was getting prickly heat (if you’ve never had it, it’s the feeling of pins and needles from when you go from cold to hot).  The way that you solve prickly heat is to . . . wait it out.  Seventeen minutes later, I determined it wasn’t prickly heat, but an actual chemical burn from the chlorine in the tub forming hydrochloric acid and eating my skin.  On the plus side?  I got a rad chemical peel of the type that New York women pay the big bucks for.

One website went as far as recommending no more than five minutes in a hot tub.  I regularly spend several hours in one, but not several hours at 104˚F.  More like 102˚F.  Meh.

So, a bad financial decision is sometimes a great life decision.  Maybe some Beatles in the tub tonight?

 

PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF EVERYTHING YOU HOLD DEAR TALK TO SOMEONE SANE BEFORE FOLLOWING ANY ADVICE HERE.  Can’t you tell by the stories that I’m not to be trusted on certain topics?